Stuart Macbeth talks to a man whose working life revolves around identifying hazards

Sixty days had passed since Lloyd Figgins and his companion Dave Whiddon had set eyes on another human being. The pair set sail from Agadir in Morocco on December 11, 2011. Their mission? To cross the Atlantic Ocean in a 23ft plywood rowing boat.

Aside from encounters with dolphins and sharks they had only their onboard equipment for company.

“There was a satellite phone, a ship anti-collision system, a medical kit, a water desalination unit, a VHF radio, a lift raft and two personal locator beacons,” Lloyd recalls, rattling off the list. “We also had a survival grab bag each. And a lot of Snickers bars!”

When the boat eventually reached Port St Charles in Barbados, Lloyd’s first instinct was to carry on rowing.

“In fact, if I hadn’t seen my wife waving at me from the shore I would have kept going!“ he comments, dryly.

Now safely back home in Didcot, the 47-year-old says he doesn’t know what drives him to undertake such dangerous expeditions. Prior to the Atlantic crossing he had traversed the Kyzyl Kum desert between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and only an outbreak of malaria stopped Lloyd from scaling Mount Kilimanjaro.

But expeditions like these have won Lloyd expertise on survival and risk assessment in remote and hostile environments. In 2000, he combined this expertise with experience gathered through his police and military careers to found a risk mitigation business, Lloyd Figgins Ltd.

The Didcot-based company now provides information and training to clients including HSBC, the Zoological Society, the Earthwatch Institute and the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, to name but a few.

He is a popular speaker at conferences from India to Brazil and is a featured commentator on the BBC and Sky News. On the morning I spoke with him, Lloyd had just returned from yet another training course. This one had provided updates on explosives currently being used by terrorist organisations.

“Risk mitigation means the process of putting control measures in place to reduce or eliminate risk” Lloyd explains. “People kept approaching me for advice, and there was enough demand that after a while it seemed a logical step for me to start a business.

“It was a time when a lot of emphasis was beginning to be put on safety and security,” he continues, speaking of the climate in 2000.

“Some industries, such as oil and gas and mining, had already started to look at the risks of working in hostile environments. Along with these industries I work with business travellers and expedition leaders. We’re also beginning to work more often with people in science and conservation.”

Lloyd is supported by permanent staff in his Didcot office and works with overseas associates including a chief medical officer, former special forces soldiers and experts in the field in kidnapping who hold daily consultations with the UK police and the FBI.

The company has been active in 100 countries worldwide: “Most recently we’ve worked in Syria, Lebanon, Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eastern Turkey and part of the Philippines. Not the kind of places you’d go on holiday.”

With the threat of terrorism constantly in the news, Lloyd’s expert training includes major incident scenarios.

“When we go into a company to create a crisis simulation we try to make it as realistic as possible“ he says. “We might start by looking at a particular country or region, and we’ll carefully work through a range of categories, such as the security situation or the health issues. The recent Ebola scare in West Africa is a good example. We also look at natural, geo-hazards including volcanoes and earthquakes.”

“We’ll hire actors to play the parts of those involved; they could be parents, school officials, or government officials, for instance. The organisation will have to convene a crisis management team who will be faced with real crisis problems. Everything is staged in real time.”

Companies are asked to block out one or two days at a time for the simulation to take place: “Employees will know the date but what they won’t know is the nature of simulation. Or to what extent it will reach.

“We test people and the systems companies have in place. We prepare people to manage the media. Our clients have reported that the simulations have been harder to manage than the real thing, and that’s how we like it. We have to ensure people are as prepared as possible.”

Lloyd says it is crucial for companies to be able to deal with a crisis, minimise their costs, and demonstrate they will take all reasonable measures to keep their people safe.

“It’s important for clients to know that situations in the countries where we work can change, and change very quickly. People need to be aware, not just of what’s in the news but of what’s going on below the radar.

“Because” he adds chillingly, “it’s often those sorts of activities that come back and bite you.”

Born in Cornwall, Lloyd began his travels at an early age, moving with his family as his father’s army career took them to Singapore, Cyprus, Holland, Germany and Spain. He later overlooked university in favour of a police career and filled his summers with expeditions, starting off with a trek through the Andes.

“What I realised, when I started to go on expeditions, was that I really loved travel, but it was expensive so I needed someone to pay me!

“I started to lead adventure travel tours but if you wanted to get on to the really challenging stuff you need qualifications, so I left the police and joined the Army.

“The amount of training the Army offers is astounding. I gained my mountain leader qualifications in the Army, I have advanced medical qualifications and I’m a qualified wilderness emergency medial technician.”

Lloyd served as a radio operator for the Royal Signals, providing air support behind enemy lines: “The day I put my papers in, happened to be the same day my unit was secretly told it was going to Iraq. I had the choice of staying in the Army or getting married. And I chose the girl.”

So when Lloyd saw his wife waiting for him on the shores of Barbados on that evening in February 2012 you’d imagine risk assessment was the last thing on his mind.

“I never stop” he laughs. “If get on a train, board an aircraft, walk into a hotel I am always looking for hazards, even in my own kitchen!”